Friday, November 30, 2012

Nashville, Tennessee Music City USA

Wed, Nov. 21st - Tue, Nov. 27th 

The Parthenon in Centennial Park in Nashville is a full scale reproduction of the original, built in 5th century B.C. and dedicated to Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, on the most sacred area in ancient Greece, the crest of the Acropolis, a hill overlooking Athens.  It was built as the centerpiece of the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition, symbolizing Nashville's position as the Athens of the South. 

It originally had a 4 foot model of the enormous Athena statue that was lost to antiquity. In 1990 a new full-scale re-creation of the original Athena was unveiled.  It is 41 feet 10 inches tall extending through two floors and anchored in bedrock, the largest indoor sculpture in North America.  In 2002 it was covered in 24 karat gold leaf.  There is an art gallery in the basement.  The Expo was visited by 1,786,711 people from May to Oct. 1897. 

On our way to see the Capitol at the top of the hill about four blocks away.  This is at the far end of the Tennessee Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, a 19-acre outdoor Tennessee history museum built for their 200th anniversary of statehood in 1996. 

This is the Court of Three Stars for the three stars on their state flag and the 95-bell Tennessee Carillon (one for each county) dedicated to the musical heritage of the Volunteer State.  The bells play every fifteen minutes.  Union soldiers played baseball along this area after Nashville was taken in 1862. 

Continuing straight down the mall toward the Capitol is this WWII memorial.  The earth spins free on a base of water.  On the sidewalk to the left is the Walkway of Counties.  For each of the 95 counties, there is a state map showing their location and interesting history facts, embedded in panels in the sidewalk, with plants and rocks from each area in the landscaping along the way. Buried under each panel is a time capsule to be opened at the tri-centennial in 2096.

Along the sidewalk to the right, John is reading some of the panels of the Passage of History Walkway.  The history of Tennessee from the 1500s all the way through 1996 is engraved on these walls.  The big pylons on the other side of the sidewalk mark each decade along the way.

At the other end of the mall is this wall of quotes related to their many rivers and one fountain representing each river in the state.  The fountains are lit up with colored lights at night.  By 1951 the TVA had built 20 hydroelectric dams.  In May 1960 after numerous sit-in demonstrations, Nashville became the first major southern city with desegregated lunch counters.  In 1986, former Nashvillian Oprah Winfrey's talk show broke records for national syndication.  In 1992 Al Gore, Jr. was elected vice president of the U.S. 

Walking under the raised train tracks next to the fountains is a big map of the state.

Finally we're heading up the hill to the Capitol.  My legs are burning by the time we get up to the first platform.  Then we cross over to the left side, where there is another long stairway to get the rest of the way up to the Capitol. 

Huffing and puffing, we look back down at the mall and the city.  Tennessee was the last state to join the Confederacy, two and one half months after the war started.   The Army of Tennessee was the last major Confederate force to surrender, twelve days after Lincoln was shot.  They were the first state to ratify the 14th Amendment giving black men the vote and to rejoin the Union. 

On the east lawn President James Knox Polk and his wife are buried.  He was elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1835, became president in 1844 and allowed Texas into the Union.   The territorial gains from the Mexican War extended the western border of the U.S. to the Pacific Ocean.  His walking cane in the history museum had a sword you could pull out of it to defend yourself.

On the opposite end of the east lawn is this statue of President Andrew Johnson.  He was governor here when the first General Assembly met in the new capitol in 1853.  Lincoln appointed him to be Military Governor of Tennessee in 1862 when the Union took Nashville.  He was governor for three years until he became Lincoln's Vice President, and ultimately President.   

On the southwest corner is this statue of Sam Davis.  He was 21 years old when he was caught wearing a Union uniform and carrying information back to the Rebs.  He refused to betray his cause or comrades and was hung. His boot that they cut up looking for smuggled papers when he was charged with spying, is on display at the State History Museum. 

If you look closely to the far right side, you can see the statue of General Andrew Jackson on horseback. He was Governor of Florida in 1821 and U.S. President in 1829 for two terms and notorious for his bad temper and being involved in several duels.  We toured his home, The Hermitage, when we were here in 1982 for the World's Fair in Knoxville.

Here his statue is at the top of the stairs.  The Capitol was defended like a fortress during the Civil War.  There is also a statue of WWI hero, Alvin C. York.  The Capitol was completed in 1859 and is one of the nation's oldest functioning antebellum capitol buildings.  The architect and the building comissioner are both entombed in the walls.  Knoxville was the Territorial Capitol in 1792.  The Capitol was also at Murfreesboro and Kingston, but Nashville became the permanent Capitol in 1843. 

This is some of the lights out front of the Opryland Hotel.  There are long driveways lined with lighted trees and nativity scenes, with horse carriages giving rides.  Very pretty.  

Inside the main lobby is a small city of restaurants and shops surrounded by canals with boat rides.  The National Clogging competition was going on in the hotel. 

One of the restaurants in a sunken garden setting.  Opryland is just about a mile from Two Rivers Campground (and several other campgrounds) where we are staying, about ten miles north of downtown.  Opryland USA includes the Opry Hotel, the new home of the Opry, Grand Ole Opry House (the biggest hoedown in the history of hoedowns), and the Opry Mills Mall, the largest outlet mall in Tennessee.  

Walking down one of the hallways, we came across this vending machine.  I always thought it was nice to be able to get a toothbrush or something, if you forgot yours.  Now, not only can you get a cell phone, but you can get about any electronic gadget you want!  I was waiting to take a picture while three young people were gawking at the vending machine in amazement.  The young man apologized and said they were easily wowed.  So was I, but I thought it was just because I was an old fogey and gadget challenged.  

Cooter's Place was just down the road from our campground, with a free Dukes of Hazzard Museum and gift shop.  We had to stop and get a gift for our very special nephew who is a big Dukes fan.  "Someday the mountain might get 'em, but the law never will!" Just next door was a Willie and Friends Museum and gift shop.  Downtown we happened to walk by a Johnny Cash Museum and gift shop and a Marty Stuart one.  And, of course, there is the famous and historic Ernest Tubb Record Shop downtown and three others throughout the city.  This is definitely a tourist town. 

We went to the free Tennessee History Museum.  John seemed to think this was a good idea.  I wasn't sure he was going to let me out.  I fail to see the humor.  There is a courthouse bench in the museum that was built by Davy Crockett.  He was elected to U.S. Congress in 1827, served three terms in the House and was known for his opposition to the policies of Andrew Jackson.  He was known for his appealing rustic humor and uncommon talent for spinning embellished tales of his wilderness exploits.  Does that mean that he didn't really kill him a bear when he was only three?  Another childhood memory dashed!  Sam Houston was a close friend of Andrew Jackson and was a congressman and governor of Tennessee.  He led Texas to it's independence from Mexico after Davy Crockett was killed at the Alamo and became President of the Republic of Texas.

My favorite quilt in the quilt room was "Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Joe".  In the history of music section, they had an exhibit of photos of Elvis when he was twenty one and had just recorded "Hound Dog" and "Don't be Cruel", both of which became #1 hits within a week.  The photographer, Al Wertheimer, had never heard of him at the time and just followed him around for a few days taking candid shots of private and relaxed moments.   It was an interesting group of pictures.  He was probably never again unkown by anyone after that week. 

Just across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame is the Music City Walk of Fame. 

The Country Music Hall of Fame.  The windows on the front are supposed to look like piano keys.  The sweeping arch of the building to a point (that I cut off in the picture) portrays a 1950s Cadillac fin.  The point on the rotunda at left is supposed to be the WSM radio tower from the station where the Grand Ole Opry originally started in 1925.  The 878' tower was the tallest in North America in 1932.  The roof of the rotunda is four disc-shaped tiers representing the evolution of the recording technology from 78s to vinyl LPs, 45s and CDs.

The Whomper is a homemade bass guitar from the 1940s.  There was a small instrument on the far side of this display that belonged to an Alabama-born musician and Army infantry man who was captured by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.  Hardrock Gunter entertained his fellow prisoners at Stalag IX-A with the 5-string tamburitza he got from a Russian cook.  It is signed on the back by more than 100 POWs.  He resumed his rockabilly recording career in the 1950s.  They also have Mother Maybelle Carter's (of Country Music's first family fame, June Carter's mother) guitar that she paid $250.00 for in 1925.  The museum paid $1.5 million for it!

They have one of Elvis's favorite cars, a 1960 Cadillac 75 limousine.  The exterior has 24 karat gold plate highlights and forty painted coats of a transluscent mixture of crushed diamonds and fish scales called "diamond dust pearl".  The interior has a gold plated tv and record player with auto changer and gold records on the ceiling.  They also have a grand piano that Priscilla had refinished with 24 karat gold leaf for their first anniversary. 

Webb Pierce (more #1 hits than any other country singer in 1950s) paid $20,000 to have this 1962 Pontiac Bonneville customized.  There are horseshoes on the gas and brake pedals and ornamental hand guns on the hood, tailgate and elsewhere.  Horses on the tailgate and rifle on the trunk.  Console is shaped like a saddle with tooled leather upholstery and over 1,000 silver dollars inlaid in the upholstery, dash, doors and console. 

I'm guessing the hand guns on the back of the front seats are cigarette lighters.  In 1978 he replaced most of the silver coins with alloy coins.  A set of horns from a long horn is mounted on the front bumper. 

A favorite of mine and John's is Roger Miller, who won 11 Grammys in 1964 and 1965.  Of course, he did sing one of John's theme songs, "King of the Road".  Jimmy Dean sang his other theme song, "Big John" (Big Bad John).  Yes, youngsters, the sausage man was a singer!  He even had his own tv show for a while, "The Jimmy Dean Show".  

Remember when Dottie West, in her simple checkered dress, sang "I was Raised on Country Sunshine" for the Coca Cola ads?  She switched up her look a bit for the 1970s.  The changing exhibit was about Patsy Cline's career. 

Dwight Yoakum is a big favorite of mine.  He and "The Hag" did a lot of the narration for the Bakersfield Sound exhibit, sometimes called Buckersfield for the influence of Buck Owens.  Merle Haggard was born and raised in Oil City, which is just a couple miles from Bakersfield.  He did some time in prison and said his greatest award was when Ronald Reagan pardoned him.

The rotunda, where the actual Hall of Fame plaques are mounted randomly on circular walls on a background of sheet music.  Around the top are the words "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (the unofficial theme song of country music), sung by country music's first family, the Carters, in the 1920s. 

The point hanging down from the ceiling is a reflection of the WSM radio tower on the outside of the rotunda.  The bronze plaques arranged to look like musical notes.  Roy Rogers is the only person named twice in the Hall of Fame, once as a solo artist and once as founding member of the Sons of the Pioneers. 

The current year's inductees, including Garth Brooks, are mounted next to the 6'x10' mural painting, "The Sources of Country Music" by Thomas Hart Benton in the center.  In conjunction with your museum ticket, you can purchase a ticket for a Studio B tour, and a bus will pick you up and take you there for a one hour tour.  It is the only recording studio tour in Nashville and was a favorite of Elvis and many others.  Over 35,000 hits have been recorded there.  We didn't go.  We had all we could do to get through this museum in one day.  

A reconstruction of the original Fort Nashborough right along the Cumberland River next to downtown.  This fort was originally built in 1779 and named for General Nash who died at Germantown, Pennsylvania in the Revolutionary War.

Straight across the river from the fort is the Tenessee Titans stadium.  T-shirt of the day said, "Jamestown, Virginia 1607.  When surviving wasn't a game."  With an arrow underneath it, as in bow and arrow.  An older guy on our Ryman tour was wearing this.

We walked along the waterfront to the Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge for more great views of the downtown city skyline and the stadium.   A marker along the street said the Seeing Eye, the world famous dog training school started in Nashville in 1929.  A blind man from here and his guide dog, Buddy, convinced Dorothy Eustis to establish the school.

I thought this 1861 advertisement for a Hair Dressing Saloon in the basement of the City Hotel was interesting.  "If you want your whiskers to secede; if you want to co-erce an incipient but sovereign mustache; In other words, if your hair wants to dye for it's country, here's the place to have it done."

Another sign along our walk said William Walker born in 1824 was a doctor, lawyer and journalist early on.  In 1853 he invaded Mexico with 46 men and proclaimed himself President of the Republic of Lower California.  In 1855 he led a force to Nicaragua and was elected President in 1856.  In an attempt to wage war on Honduras, he was captured and executed in 1860.  And, no, I didn't make that up and I haven't been drinking.

You can spot Elvis singing on the roof top just to the right of the white store front.  He can be spotted a few different places around town.  There are tons of bars downtown and they most all have live music starting at noon or 2:00 p.m.  I suppose they are all looking for their big break and they all sounded really good as we walked by.

Walking down Printers Alley.  Music publishing began in Nashville in 1824.  In 1891, the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now among the world's largest religious publishers) chose Nashville for their headquarters because of their reputation as a center for printing.  Until the 1980s or so, there was more money made here publishing Bibles and other religious materials than there was music.  Printers Alley is in the area of Nashville's early printing and publishing industry and became the center of the city's night life, serving hotels, restaurants and saloons on 4th Avenue.  Nightclubs opened here in the 1940s and the alley became the showcase for talents such as Chet Atkins, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams and Dottie West.  It has a 100 year tradition of entertainment excellence from W.C. Fields of Vaudeville days to today's superstars of stage.  Five U.S. presidents and scores of international diplomats have walked this alley. 

The Ryman Auditorium, "The Mother Church of Country Music". The Grand Ole Opry, the longest running radio show in American history, started in 1925 at WSM radio as the "Barn Dance" radio show.  It was sponsored by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, motto We Shield Millions, WSM.  They moved to the Ryman in 1943 and stayed until 1974.  There were tours for the next twenty years and a few movies were shot here, until it was renovated at a cost of $9 million and reopened in 1994.  It was originally built by prominent riverboat Captain Thomas Ryman for $100,000.  He owned thirty five riverboats with saloons and a few of the 91 saloons downtown.  There was a preacher in town raising a ruckus about drinking.  He went to one of his tent revivals to heckle him and was converted.  He built this church in 1892, so the preacher would have a place to preach.  In 1897 the United Confederate Veterans Reunion was held here and they raised the money to add the balcony, so there would be enough seating for them.  When he died in 1904, the preacher suggested at his funeral that the Union Gospel Tabernacle be renamed the Ryman Auditorium and the 4,000 people at the service agreed.  They had entertainers from all over the world, opera singers, ballet, symphony, Houdini, Bob Hope, Kathryn Hepburn, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, W.C. Field, Presidents, etc.    

Roy Acuff, the King of Country Music, and Minnie Pearl, the Queen of Country Comedy.  "Howdee!  I'm just so proud to be here!"  Minnie would have been 100 years old this year.  The sculpture is titled "Oh, Roy!".   They have framed posters all over the walls in the hallways signed by the performers that were here over the last century.  Most of the posters were made by Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest operating poster shops in America, located on that same block where Elvis is on the roof in one of the pictures above.  We saw Roy and Minnie at the Opry when we were here in 1982.  

We did the backstage tour.  This is a couple of the costumes worn by Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton on the Porter Wagoner Show, where Dolly got her start.  Dolly moved to Nashville the day after she graduated high school determined to make a career for herself.  Dolly and Porter recorded 19 top 40 hits together.  Porter has been a member of the Opry over 50 years.  They were good friends, but when Dolly decided to go out on her own and broke her contract, Porter sued her for $1 million.  Instead of getting mad, she wrote a song, "I Will Always Love You".  She said, "When I sang it, I went to the bank.  When Whitney sang it (in the movie "Body Guard"), I bought the bank."  She made $25 million on that song!  I hope she thanked Porter for the inspiration.   Movies that were filmed here include:  Coal Miner's Daughter with Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn, Honky Tonk Man with Clint Eastwood,  WW and the Dixie Dance Kings with Burt Reynolds and Sweet Dreams with Jessica Lange as Patsy Cline.          

 Country music's first successful recording artist was John Carson in 1923.  His debut recording was "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane" and "The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Gonna Crow".   They say the acoustics here are second only to the Mormon Tabernacle, even better than Carnegie Hall.  In 1949, Hank Williams brought down the house when he sang his #1 hit, "Lovesick Blues".   He was invited to join the Opry, inspite of their misgivings about his lifestyle.  In 1952, after many missed performances due to his drinking, his membership was revoked.  He was found dead six months later on New Years Day at 29 years old.  Johnny Cash also had his membership revoked for bad behavior.  However, four years later in 1969, he was asked back and his TV show was broadcast from here for two years.  He welcomed all types of musicians on the stage here with him, including Louis Armstrong, Eric Clapton, The Who, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and many others.   Elvis performed here only once in 1954 and was discouraged by the lukewarm crowd, but he did visit backstage frequently.  The back stage steps lead out to the alley and a number of bars that the entertainers frequented between sets.  On those steps, two young brothers sat and strummed their guitars every night until one night Chet Atkins invited them in, and the Everly Brothers were discovered.  You can have your picture taken on the stage holding guitars or make a recording for $10 or $15.

We went to the Tuesday matinee at the Ryman.  Lots and lots of tour bus groups there and lots more lined up for the evening show when we left.  Little Jimmy Dickens, who was invited to the Opry by Roy Acuff in 1948, was supposed to be the host, but he didn't show up.  I think he is 92 or 93, but still hosts on a regular basis.  He sings "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose" and "Take an Old Cold Tater and Wait".  This is John Conlee, singing "The Working Man".  Nice voice.  Each act did three songs and the emcee did commercials in between sets.  It is live radio. 

This is Mandy Barnett.  She did Patsy Cline's "Crazy", or maybe I should say Willie's "Crazy", since he wrote it.  Anyway, she did a great job.  She has a wonderful voice.  Others we saw were Katie Armiger, Suzy Bogguss, Jimmy Wayne, the Del McCoury Band (awesome bluegrass) and the Whites.  The Whites are three sisters with their 82 year old father on piano and a guy named Leon who used to play guitar with Ernest Tubb back in the day.  They were very good.  And that Jimmy Wayne made me cry with his songs about growing up in a broken home and foster care.  Very touching. He walked from Nashville to Phoenix last summer to raise awareness for the plight of foster kids who lose their foster home status, insurance, etc. when they turn 18 and sometimes end up homeless.  When he got back, the governor signed a bill to extend foster care to the age of 21.   They have Opry shows Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday.  They also have all kinds of other events including funerals.  Johnny Cash had his funeral here and the most recent funeral was Earl Scruggs.

Wednesday we are heading to Birmingham, Alabama where we will stay for a week.


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